“A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.” —Roald Dahl
Philanthropy, meaning “humanity loving,” is a word whose origins can be traced to ancient Greece and playwright Aeschylus’ description of Prometheus in his play Prometheus Bound.
By the 1700’s English lexicographer, Samuel Johnson added to the definition by defining philanthropy as, “Having a good-natured love of mankind.”
This good-natured aspect was made manifest during The Scottish Enlightenment when the act of becoming philanthropic was perceived as a “fitness” or, as a way of living in harmony with nature and one’s circumstances. Doing good deeds was proposed as an essential key to human happiness, and helped to build a commonwealth community. Thus, volunteering became a popular pastime among the wealthy, and societies, gentleman clubs, and mutual associations began to flourish.
In the above painting, the morally out-of-shape gentleman, however, whose philanthropic fitness has been woefully unrealized, laments: HE TRIED TO BE A GOOD PERSON, BUT JUST COULDN’T DO IT.
In Rudyard Kipling’s children’s story “The Jungle Book” (1894), Mowgli, a small infant (man-cub), is taken from his parents into the jungle by the arrogant and sore-footed tiger Shere Khan. Little disturbed that hunting defenseless humans is against the law of the jungle, the hungry Shere Khan boasts he has killed a man in the past and is not adverse to doing it again, as it is his ancient birthright.
Despite Shere Khan’s ominous intention, Mowgli miraculously escapes and is adopted by a kindly wolf couple who want to protect him from the hungry tiger and raise him as their own with the rest of their wolf cubs. Of course, this causes the chop-licking Shere Khan great displeasure and he vows revenge on the little Mowgli.
As the story progresses, there are many tests upon the character of Mowgli until he is finally cast out of the jungle for being too human. When he returns to live among men, Mowgli soon realizes he doesn’t fit-in there either. He does not understand the caste system that makes some men more important than others. Nor does he understand the value of money, or the silly lies men tell about the creatures of the jungle who live just beyond their gates. When he succeeds in killing Shere Khan with a stampede of cattle, he expects to be lauded as a hero among the villagers. Instead, he is cast out again for being a “Sorcerer” and too much a wolf.
Oh, Mowgli, sometimes growing up is learning you are far more than society imagines you to be!